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Transgender Alaskans can change sex on licenses easier under new DMV rule

Suzanna Caldwell

The lieutenant governor signed a new Alaska Department of Motor Vehicles regulation earlier this month that makes it easier for transgender citizens to change their sex identifier on state ID cards.

Residents wanting to change their physical description -- including sex identifier -- must submit certification from a licensed physician, social worker, psychologist, professional counselor, physicians assistant or certified nurse practitioner. In it, the provider must certify that the individual has been undergoing treatment and that the change is expected to be permanent.

The department will accept, but not require, documentation to change other physical descriptors -- like height, weight or eye color.

It's a big change from the previous policy, which required people who want to change their sex identifier to submit proof of surgery. A state Superior Court ruling in March found that asking for such information was an invasion of privacy. DMV Director Whitney Brewster said the state is complying with that order to adopt a new regulation.

The change has come without much pomp and circumstance. Treadwell, whose office is in charge of adopting regulations, quietly signed it on July 12 after a 30-day public comment period. The regulation will be in effect starting Aug. 11.

It's a small win for transgender advocates, who found themselves in the middle of a debate over Anchorage's proposition 5, a ballot measure that would have added protections to people regardless of “sexual orientation or gender identity.” It was voted down. 

Until the ruling, the DMV only had a policy in place -- not a regulation -- dictating how Alaskans went about changing their sex identifier. “It had not been a real issue for the DMV up until recently,” Brewster said. “As this issue has come more and more to light in public forums, we realized we did not have a regulation in place.”

In March, state Superior Court ruled, in the case K.L. v. the State of Alaska, that having to show proof of surgery was an invasion of privacy and unconstitutional.

K.L. is a transgender woman who was born male, but from a young age identified as a girl. Since 2009 she has been living as a woman. Working as a pilot, she changed sex identifiers on her passport, airman certificate and work identification, but ran into conflict when she tried to change her Alaska driver's license.

She was given a new license from the DMV, but then received a letter saying had to prove that she had undergone certain sex-change surgeries.

She appealed and was told since the DMV had no regulation, the department had no authority to change the gender on her license. She appeal again to the Superior Court and prevailed.

Alaska ACLU executive director Jeffery Mittman said that the DMV should be in the business of motor vehicles, not in the business of dictating medical requirements. He was pleased with the new regulation. “We think this gets the balance right,” he said. “Transgender individuals need something that respects their privacy and safety. It's always nice and good when the state is in the business of understanding the diverse needs of its citizens.”

Contact Suzanna Caldwell at suzanna@alaskadispatch.com

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